PREVIEW: Ultimate ADOM – Caverns of Chaos
Ultimate ADOM screen

PREVIEW: Ultimate ADOM – Caverns of Chaos

Anything but ultimate, barely an Early Access successor to the splendidly majestic old school roguelike, ADOM – Ancient Domains of Mystery.

Released: Steam Early Access
Type: Single-player
Genre: roguelike, RPG
Developer: Various
Publisher: Assemble Ent
Release date: 18 Feb, 2021

Review based on Early Access version 0.7.3. Technical details: i7, RTX2070, 32GB of RAM and an SSD.

A Straw of Nostalgia

Just thinking about ADOM transports me back many, many years, into a different world. A world of text based graphics, green, orange and blue @’s, many, many dots, hashtags, slashes and coloured small and capital letters. Into a world providing a canvas for your imagination with a multitude of ways to play, endless variety, incredible mechanics and even more incredible ways to die. And all that in ASCII characters on your screen.

Through almost 25 years of development, the original ADOM turned into one of the best and most encompassing roguelikes ever, even getting an enormous facelift with the graphical Tile mode. ADOM is very much an old school roguelike, a remnant, a relic even, from a gaming era that time forgot. The enormity of things available and implemented is staggering and the rules are complex, but not insurmountable. And it’s still available for free, in original ASCII and in the newfangled Tile mode, as well as on Steam with some added bonuses due to Steam integration, such as Network mode, Ghost Exchange and Steam achievements. If you have any interest in roguelike RPG’s, book a session with ADOM. Or two. Or thirty two.

Early Grafting Woes

Fast forward over a quarter of a century later, to an Early Access version of Ultimate ADOM – Caverns of Chaos. A bare bones, simplified mechanics, cumbersome interface, buggy and glitchy mess of a pre-alpha nostalgia caressing vagabond, tripping all over himself while staring at a catch-all roadmap that has all the answers to his future. Like a crumbling fortune cookie. Without going into discourses on what is or should be Early Access, let’s just go with there is such a thing as too early for Early Access.

Ultimate ADOM, for now, seems to be going into a different direction than the original. It’s still a classic dungeon crawler, with character creation, procedurally generated dungeons, tons of monsters, vast number of items, spells, skills and ways to die. But it seems to be moving into simpler mechanics and a smaller, more compact world, presenting you only the Caverns of Chaos to explore with additional side dungeons accessible from the main Caverns. That’s not really a bad thing, roguelikes evolved, so don’t pull out your torches and pitchforks yet.

The problem is that the state of Ultimate ADOM is, at the moment of writing, dreadful. Besides a very limited amount of content, there are lots of missing mechanics and features. Corruption and hunger meters do nothing. Reading the scrolls doesn’t work, yet they still appear in-game, as do other items that seemingly have no use. You can choose a faction when creating a character, but there is nothing associated with them. Some of the descriptions and monster names appear to be placeholders, as do some of the visuals because I ran into a Necromancer that was a bunch of floating question marks and a couple of monsters that had visuals with an attached floating question mark.

On a technical and mechanical level, the UI is, even after a patch, very clunky while many times not offering useful information or even offering completely wrong information, such as items displaying different statistics on the ground and in your inventory or weapons having different values in your inventory and when equipped. The movement is only four way, not eight way, there’s no diagonal movement. You can’t keybind all the options yet, so you need to use your mouse along with the keyboard.

I’ve had the UI randomly freeze and lose focus, making you unable to target or click anything with a mouse until you open your inventory, use a keyboard to move or do an alt+tab. I’ve also had the enemies on the entire level completely stop responding, moving or attacking and after killing them all, when I wanted to click on auto-travel on the map, the game completely froze and I had to forcefully close it. The game also throws random exception errors with big red buttons continue at your own risk or quit game and becomes laggier the longer you play it, becoming borderline unplayable on certain dungeon levels. The same level that froze on me froze again when I encountered it a second time, this time when I went down the stairs to the next level. Save and load function, which Early Access launch started without, was thankfully, added in the 0.7.2. patch.

Drops of Content

It’s not all uncontrolled ChAoS. The content that is there does look promising, with some very neat ideas and a 3D ASCII mode that’s a cool touch, there’s no arguing that. The dungeons can be rotated, visuals are sharp and colorful, music is catchy, skills are varied, displayed statistics are fully customizable and the controls, clunky as they are, do work. Descriptions of monsters and enemies are easily the highlight, with some creative writing. Grafting skills allowing you to use chopped off enemy body parts, attach them to yourself and turn into a four armed, axe wielding bearded monstrosity is my absolute favourite. The roadmap lists a lot of interesting and promising things, but they’re not here right now and it’s a question when they will be.

It may be going the simplified route, but as I said, that might not be such a bad idea for new generations and a much wider audience. Yes, you’re very likely not giving your 20€ to a soulless AAA corporation milking Early Access (maybe just a smidgen of milking), but supporting a developer that, from prior experience, listens. But, tar and feathers. This, in it’s current state should not have been released in Early Access for the general public, but left in the invite only pre-alpha for more testing and polishing.

Toss a 20€

If you’re a fan that must, at any cost, graft an extra head and wants to be part of the community that “made the game”, are aware what you’re getting into and might possibly be itching for a donor memorial spot like the original ADOM has, toss a 20€ to the devs. Know that you’re paying for a promise that’s very far away, but that will probably be fulfilled somewhere along the road unlike many other Early Access games. In any other case and if you’re itching to try a majestic, old school roguelike, go buy the first ADOM. It’s 14.99€, an immeasurably better experience born and grafted from 25 years of blood, sweat and tears and you’ll still be supporting the devs. And come back in October 2021, or in 25 years, to see has the ChAoS in Ultimate ADOM been calmed into more orderly ChAoS.

Written by
Quirky Custodian
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